Black History Month — Carter G. Woodson

Today is February 1st and, as such, is the first day of Black History Month, celebrated in the U.S. throughout the month.  For literally centuries Black people have been sold into slavery, abused, brutalized, and murdered for no reason other than the colour of their skin.  The saddest thing of all is that in this, the 21st century, there are still large numbers of people who believe that Black people are somehow ‘inferior’ to whites.  We’ve abolished slavery, seen societal and legal strides toward equality, overthrown Jim Crow, and still … today in the United States, Black people face frequent barriers to equality and sometimes barriers to life itself.

Filosofa’s Word will publish several posts in the coming month highlighting some of the achievements of Black people and their struggle for equality and justice.  I’d like to start with an article I ran across on History.com about the renowned Carter G. Woodson.  Naturally, I had a vague notion of who Mr. Woodson was, as I’m sure most of you do, but I learned a lot about the man and the role he played in bringing Black culture to the forefront.


In 1915, Carter G. Woodson traveled to Chicago from his home in Washington, D.C. to take part in a national celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation. He had earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree at the University of Chicago, and still had many friends there. As he joined the thousands of Black Americans overflowing from the Coliseum, which housed exhibits highlighting African American achievements since the abolition of slavery, Woodson was inspired to do more in the spirit of celebrating Black history and heritage. Before he left Chicago, he helped found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). A year later, Woodson singlehandedly launched the Journal of Negro History, in which he and other researchers brought attention to the achievements of Black Americans.

Born in 1875 in New Canton, Virginia, Woodson had worked as a sharecropper, miner and various other jobs during his childhood to help support his large family. Though he entered high school late, he made up for lost time, graduating in less than two years. After attending Berea College in Kentucky, Woodson worked in the Philippines as an education superintendent for the U.S. government. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Chicago before entering Harvard. In 1912, three years before founding the ASNLH, he became only the second African American (after W.E.B. DuBois) to earn a doctorate from that institution.

Like DuBois, Woodson believed that young African Americans in the early 20th century were not being taught enough of their own heritage, and the achievements of their ancestors. To get his message out, Woodson first turned to his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, which created Negro History and Literature Week in 1924. But Woodson wanted a wider celebration, and he decided the ASNLH should take on the task itself.

In February 1926, Woodson sent out a press release announcing the first Negro History Week. He chose February because the month contained the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two prominent men whose historic achievements African Americans already celebrated. (Lincoln’s birthday was February 12; Douglass, who was formerly enslaved, hadn’t known his actual birthday, but had marked the occasion on February 14.)

As schools and other organizations across the country quickly embraced Woodson’s initiative, he and his colleagues struggled to meet the demand for course materials and other resources. The ASNLH formed branches all over the country, though its national headquarters remained centered in Woodson’s row house on Ninth Street in Washington D.C. The house was also home base for the Associated Publishers Press, which Woodson had founded in 1921. 

The author of more than 20 books, including A Century of Negro Migration (1918), The History of the Negro Church (1921), The Negro in Our History (1922) and his most celebrated text, The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933), Woodson also worked in education, as principal for the Armstrong Manual Training School in Washington, D.C., and dean at Howard University and the West Virginia Collegiate Institute.

Clearly, Woodson never viewed the study of Black history as something that could be confined to a week. As early as the 1940s, efforts began to expand the week of public celebration of African American heritage and achievements into a longer event. This shift had already begun in some locations by 1950, when Woodson died suddenly of a heart attack at home in Washington.

With the rise of the civil rights and Black Power movements in the 1960s, young African Americans on college campuses were becoming increasingly conscious of the historic dimension of their experience. Younger members of the ASNLH (which later became the Association for the Study of African American History) urged the organization to change with the times, including the official shift to a month-long celebration of Black history. In 1976, on the 50th anniversary of the first Negro History Week, the Association officially made the shift to Black History Month.

Since then, every U.S. president has issued a proclamation honoring the spirit of Black History Month. Gerald Ford began the tradition in 1976, saying the celebration enabled people to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Ronald Reagan’s first Black History Month proclamation stated that “understanding the history of Black Americans is a key to understanding the strength of our nation.”

In 2016, Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, made his last proclamation in honor of Woodson’s initiative, now recognized as one of the nation’s oldest organized celebrations of history. “As we mark the 40th year of National African American History Month, let us reflect on the sacrifices and contributions made by generations of African Americans, and let us resolve to continue our march toward a day when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

31 thoughts on “Black History Month — Carter G. Woodson

  1. You and I have discussed this often Jill.
    It bears repeating:
    The hysterical and incoherent response from the White Right to Obama’ s election (Twice, by a verifiable majority) which is their primary motivation, proves there is still a long way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, I have long believed that the election of a Black man not only once, but twice, opened the door to the current Republican Party of bigots and racists. Obviously, they had always been around, but I believe that Obama was the catalyst that brought them slithering out from under their rocks, and now we cannot seem to get them to go back! A long way to go indeed, and methinks we will never get there. 😔

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        • True. I thought that after Trump, twice impeached and a single-term president, left office the Republican Party would work at re-building its image, at becoming more respectable. Instead, they hitched their wagon to Trump’s rump and are now wallowing in the output. Yes, Keith is great at shining a light on those who stand by their oaths and speak the truth. Trouble is, there is a hefty price to be paid for them doing so.

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  2. Thank you for being part of the blogging world’s celebration of Black History Month. I am enjoying going through the various articles and learning about the important men and women who have made this country great!

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  3. Irrational racist sentiment is too often handed down generation to generation, regardless of race or religion, etcetera. If it’s deliberate, it’s something I strongly feel amounts to a form of child abuse: to rear one’s impressionably very young children in an environment of overt bigotry — especially against other races and/or sub-racial groups (i.e. ethnicities). Not only does it fail to prepare children for the practical reality of an increasingly racially/ethnically diverse and populous society and workplace, it also makes it so much less likely those children will be emotionally content or (preferably) harmonious with their multicultural/-racial surroundings.

    Children reared into their adolescence and, eventually, young adulthood this way can often be angry yet not fully realize at precisely what. Then they may feel left with little choice but to move to another part of the land, where their race or ethnicity predominates, preferably overwhelmingly so. If not for themselves, parents then should do their young children a big favor and NOT pass down onto their very impressionable offspring racially/ethnically bigoted feelings and perceptions, nor implicit stereotypes and ‘humor’, for that matter. Ironically, such rearing can make life much harder for one’s own children.

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  4. Every year when the month of February makes its debut and Black History Month is once again revisited I think of one woman’s dream that has yet to become a reality. “Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of the U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” – Maya Angelou in February of 2012. One has to wonder…if not then or now, when? WHAK!! Thank-you!

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    • Yes, as my friend Brosephus says in his post that I will be re-blogging later today, “Black History IS American History!” I side with Maya Angelou on this … a woman who I much admired. To answer your question … of late I think the answer is “Never”. I once thought that racism and racial hatred was becoming a thing of the past, but today it is more prevalent than at any time since the early 1960s. We are going backward, not forward. WHAK!!!

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  5. Pingback: BLACK HISTORY MONTH – CARTER G. WOODSON. |jilldennison.com | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

  6. “for no reason other than the colour of their skin”
    Not entirely true. The slavers couldn’t give less fux about anyone’s skintone but those primitive African savages were just too easy to pick in their irresistible helplessness and ignorance.

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      • Naaw. Of course I noticed but that wasn’t the reason for which they were enslaved. The plantation owners needed cheap af cotton pluckers, no matter if black or green.

        Black was practical though, easy to determine who’s the baas and who’s the werker.

        In South Africa they quickly found out that the local population was too weak and sickly and very very lazy, so they – very clever – imported their slaves from Indonesia.

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    • Why in the EU? Correct me if I’m wrong but afaik we never had black slaves. At least not in the EU. Maybe in early colonial times, long before the EU, but again afaik the few blacks were always viewed and treated as gimmicks, as novelties.

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        • Racism, yes. And GB was in the slave biz. Heck, most of the rich people around Washington were Brits and slave owners until they started the revolution.
          But they were the only ones, rest of Europe had serfs and bondsmen but those were no black people.

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          • Aaaand racism is mostly targeted against Arabs, North Africans,Turks. Black people are mostly too sophisticated to become victims of racísm.

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    • Indeed, I doubt there is a country on the planet that doesn’t experience some form and degree of racism and it’s time we learned to end it, to live together in peace and to work together to save the planet from almost certain destruction by the end of the century. You have a nice day too, Michael … yours is almost over now, though! 😉 xx

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